My Time in Italy: Unexpected, Enlightening, Irreplaceable

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I came to Italy in August 2014, planning to stay for one semester, looking for a “life changing experience.” When the first semester was over, I wasn’t ready to leave, so I stayed for a second semester. Now, having been abroad for what will be a total of 9 months, I’ve made the decision to head home.

Florence has become one of my homes. I know these cobblestone streets, I know how to take the train for a day trip to Pisa, which lady at the antique market will barter with you, what restaurant serves the best cheesy gnocchi, how to get to Edoardos for my favorite cinnamon gelato, I’ve seen the most beautiful view of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo, I’ve walked past the Duomo more than 100 times, I’ve even gone on a date with an Italian guy and now know where all three hospitals are (that’s another story…) I feel comfortable here and will always think of Florence with a smile.

Fall 2014 semester in Giogalto
Fall 2014 semester in Giogalto

I will remember everyone who has been a part of my time abroad. My fellow classmates, the local Italians I’ve encountered, and the staff at SRISA. I was hesitant to believe (SRISA Director) Rebecca when she said I’d become a part of a family while here, but she was right. I have found an unwavering support group in each and every member of the school.

Fall semester 2014 Thanksgiving meal
Fall semester 2014 with staff at Thanksgiving meal

In my first semester at SRISA, we were an intimate number of students. None of us had ever met before, but we quickly grew strong bonds. We always knew what projects each person was working on, what trip they were going on that weekend, and almost weekly we had “family dinners” a potluck that always included wine, laughing, and if we were lucky – Meg’s Megplant fries. We grew close in a way that can’t be planned or forced, it just happened. We all knew what a unique experience we were involved in, and wanted to make every second count and not hold back. We helped each other through the ups and downs of being away from home, adjusting to a new culture, learning a language, and exploring our new city. I remember the day I came to the school after my (unexpected) back surgery, I was standing in the lobby, and then the heard of them all came at me, big smiles and warm hugs waiting. I felt so genuinely cared for, and by these people I’d only met 2 months ago.

Spring semester 2015 field trip to Pompeii
Spring semester 2015 field trip to Pompeii

As I have said in previous blogs, “The SRISA staff is the essential backbone of the school, the heart of your new Italian family.” They set the stage and create the opportunity for nothing less than a spectacular time, both in and out of school. In every interaction I have had with the staff, I get the sense that my personal experience matters to them, and they are willing to do anything to make it a positive one. Taking art classes with Professor Andrew has been an incredibly important part of my artistic journey, teaching me new ways to look at the world, myself, how I use and create art, and helping me realize who I really am as an artist. I can end my time here knowing what I’m capable of, and move forward confidently into my last semester at school, and into my career.

My first and last painting made at SRISA
My first and last painting made at SRISA

Going home and returning to school in the States will be difficult, having to re-adjust to the places I left, now looking at them with a new perspective. I have changed, and therefore what I once knew well might look and feel different. It’s daunting, but I’ve always been a girl up for a challenge. When I was in the process of over analyzing my decision to go home, wondering if now was the right time, if I’d be missing out on something, and if I’d be happy, I realized: I have gotten everything I wanted, needed, and more from this experience. To say it’s been anything less than incredible would be an understatement. Incredible doesn’t even cover it. Life changing? Definitely.

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